Her father might have his garish red ties, but Ivanka Trump, a “woman who works” and one who has distanced herself from her eponymous fashion label and her role in the Trump family business to take up another one in the White House, hasn’t, according to some commentators, quite worked out what to wear. But then, perhaps more pertinently, her new role might be too vague to nail the dress code anyway.
Lizzie Crocker wrote recently in the Daily Beast of Ivanka’s choice of a dress with what looked like an exposed bra strap for Donald Trump’s first address to congress: “Now that she’s no longer selling that image [an extension of her clothing line brand], the new Ivanka seems to be struggling to find her sartorial stride in her role as unofficial adviser and advocate for women’s economic empowerment in the Trump administration.”
Meanwhile, fashion editor Jess Cartner Morley noted with horror that Ivanka was onto the mismatched statement earring trend, sporting a pair of Marni ones at a recent forum in Berlin with Angela Merkel and other female leaders. It was, wrote Cartner Morley, a cynical attempt for Ivanka – who now has security clearance in her new unpaid gig as the President’s “eyes and ears” – to show she’s just like us. That is, one supposes, susceptible to fashion trends and trying to impress in the workplace.
“[M]ore insidious … is that the Picasso-asymmetry of mismatched earrings suggests an independent-minded, creative-thinking outlook, an identity Ivanka Trump deliberately flirts with. We should all be scared of Ivanka’s earrings, because they represent what makes her the most terrifying of all the Trump circle, which is her Blade Runner-replicant-like ability to make you believe – just for a second – that she is a bit like us,” writes Cartner Morley.
It used to be an easier sell.
The Ivanka Trump fashion range, entirely inoffensive, mid-priced pieces aimed at busy working women, was reported last year to have made US$100 million in apparel sales in the precious fiscal year. The appeal, apart from the accessible price points and some fairly cute pieces, is that the clothes are packaged up on a pastel-hued website that also offers advice for women in the workplace, interiors inspiration and “wise words,” i.e., faintly naff empowering quotes. Her new self-help book, Women Who Work, reportedly mostly written before Trump became president, is an extension of this positioning. The book, it must be said, has had some scathing reviews. The profits from the book, it must also be said, Ivanka is donating.
It’s less about buying a new top and more buying into a brand. A brand that Ivanka often wears herself and one that she once embodied – glamorous yet paradoxically, relatable. And it’s raised questions of ethics around profiting from the presidency. Something that Ivanka’s range of fine jewellery, to be discontinued, brought sharply into focus when a “style alert” was sent out to the press for the $14,700 bracelet from her range that Ivanka wore for an interview on 60 Minutes. Criticisms of Ivanka’s role in the White House have also included nepotism.
This backlash has dogged Ivanka’s transition to her role in the White House. Sales for her merchandise, however, remain solid.
As part of attempts to distance herself from her brand, Ivanka transferred its assets to a trust controlled by relatives of her husband. She’s also opted to “voluntarily” comply with ethics obligations as part of her new gig.
But is it little wonder that Ivanka might be unsure how to get dressed in the morning? Not only does she need to be glamorous, her default position, but also taken seriously (yes you can be both, no it’s not always easy).
Of course Ivanka isn’t the only woman in the public eye who’s been criticised for her wardrobe. Hillary Clinton couldn’t win – shamed for being too frumpy, and for trying too hard – before finally, famously, settling on the pantsuit as her signature style, a look that neither attracts or detracts. In doing so she joined countless other “women who work” in establishing a “uniform”, or signature style for the office – one that makes life a little easier. Because the truth is, it matters what you wear. For better or worse, clothes can say something about who you are and what you stand for.
This matters for Ivanka, as a woman who works, and a woman who works for her father. To close read Ivanka’s wardrobe choices, veering from a choker one day to a sensible knee-length skirt the next, it may be that she is not so much experimenting with her style. Instead, it highlights the grey area between brand Ivanka, purveyor of sensible neutral-hued workwear separates and writer of mantra-filled self-help books, and Ivanka, the woman attending forums wearing mismatched earrings with Angela Merkel.
There’s Ivanka,the woman who buys into fashion trends, and the woman who’s standing behind her father. A man, it must be said, with absolutely no style at all.